hilda zlataroff should have died of old age

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Family care partner Nicole Jaouich visited her 102-year-old mother Hilda Zlatoroff in a Quebec long-term care facility every day for 6 years to help her eat and drink; her mother’s eyesight was failing, and she lived with dementia. When COVID-19 struck, no visitors were permitted from March 14, 2020, onward. Over the next 5 weeks, Jaouich watched her mother’s condition deteriorate via a video camera. Her mother died of dehydration on April 27,2020.

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At 102, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Hilda Zlataroff had died of old age.

Tragically, she did not.

Hilda Zlatoroff died of dehydration in the Saint-Joseph-de-la-Providence long-term care facility in Quebec, Canada, at 5:35 am on April 27, 2020. Ms. Zlatoroff had been a resident there for nine years. She didn’t die of COVID-19. She died as a result of COVID-19, and the massive cracks in long-term care that became canyons with the onset of the pandemic.

“I guarantee that if I had been able to be with my mother, she would not have died of dehydration,” says Nicole Jaouich, Hilda Zlataroff’s daughter.

Jaouich had visited her mother every day for six years to help her eat and drink because Hilda Zlatoroff’s eyesight was failing and she lived with dementia.

“Maman needed encouragement to eat and drink. It was important not to rush her. ‘Do you want to drink a little juice?’ I would say to her, and then help her to lift the glass to her mouth,” Jaouich says.

“When I couldn’t be there or needed a break, I hired someone to go to the residence and be with her. She had someone with her eight hours a day every day for six years. She was my mother, she deserved to be cared for,” Jaouich has tears in her eyes.

Then COVID-19 struck, and from March 14 onward, no visitors were permitted at the residence in an effort to limit the spread of the disease. Over the next five weeks, Jaouich watched her mother’s condition deteriorate via a video camera she’d had installed in her mother’s room. It was painful.

“Sometimes they put the meal tray in front of her, but she didn’t touch the food because she couldn’t see it. Then they would come back and pick it up, even though she hadn’t eaten a thing. And how could she drink? They didn’t help her,” Jaouich says.

“I will never forgive the government for banning family caregivers from visiting and helping to care for our family members. The government knew very well the facilities were understaffed. This has been an issue for years,” Jaouich says.

“Family care partners were needed every day to help give basic care. When family members were banned, it made things even worse than they already were. Family care partners should have been integrated into the caregiving, not forbidden from coming to help,” Jaouich says.

“Of course I knew my mother would die, she was 102. But to have her die from dehydration, alone, without me by her side, was criminal and cruel. I will never get over it,” says Jaouich, who, ironically, is an advocate for better long-term care in Quebec, and a board member of Handicap Vie Dignité, an organization that has been fighting for reform for years.

Jaouich wasn’t able to be with her mother when she died, but she was able to visit twice for ten minutes in the week before her death, and then for forty-five minutes each time during the last few days before she passed.

“She was so beautiful,” Jaouich smiles slightly. “The last time I went she was breathing peacefully and her face was relaxed. She squeezed my hand slightly when I held hers. She knew it was me. She knew I was there. I only wish I could have been with her when she died.”

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